Intentional Interim Minister Rev. Kyle Harris's Page
March 2023 Caller Article
A few years ago as a Lenten exercise, I read Adam Hamilton’s book The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus and engaged a small group for discussion. It was a good book and conversation that helped to illuminate parts of scripture that may seem ordinary or bland and brought out a deeper understanding of the texts. In reading and talking with others we
explored the texts behind the text to see what else comes to light from stories that are familiar to many of us who have been in the church a while and have studied the Bible before.
About the same time, I read an article by a friend and colleague in ministry, Rev. Mark Price. In the article, he relayed a quote by Tom Ehrich that made a connection between
stopping by the sampler tables at Costco and the life of faith. Ehrich writes:
“It is possible to approach faith as if it were a sampler. An hour of worship, a Lenten study group, a morning’s Habitat duty, an evening committee. Each sample has substance, each is offered as an invitation to go cheaper, but in the end, a circuit of sampling stations leaves one unfulfilled. . . . Seeking more proves to be a vexing quest, not because real food is difficult to find, but because sampling is so tempting—a lark, no cost—and staying longer so disturbing.”
Lent is a season in the church when we dedicate ourselves to prayer and study of scripture while walking the journey with Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb. Our worship is a little different as we prepare for Easter. We give just a little more attention to spiritual
practices. I’m sure some of us will stay in one or more of these practices for much longer as opportunities are offered. But what exactly did Tom Ehrich mean when he suggested that “staying longer” is disturbing? He meant this:
“Serious mission work can render one unfit to resume normal life. Sustained study of scripture can confuse one’s religion. Anything that renews faith changes life. A sharing group will
illuminate hidden corners. Intense prayer calls everything into question.”
Faith as sampling is very tempting precisely because there is minimal risk involved. Faith as practice might well change us into, well, God’s people on a mission in our world. That’s risky business. As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, let us be willing to be changed, challenged, and fulfilled on this journey -- now, and forever.
I’ll see you Sunday.
February 2023 Caller Article
Every day, authenticity takes a beating. Deception rules our political lives. Advertisers sell us something that does not do what they say it does. Doctored Internet videos make us think something is real. We see snapshots but create our own context for what we see. Rules are constantly broken because the rule doesn’t apply universally. People cheat. People lie. People scream loudly to get their way. Aggressive people bulldoze less aggressive people. How many times can I let my car’s warranty expire?
I know that there have been people who have cheated, who have lied, who have bullied, and who have scammed before. I know that there are folks who have built their whole lives on lies. Having a lack of authenticity about who you are, how you relate to others, and what you do will continue in our wider culture. We just need to have our eyes tuned to what is real, what is authentic.
Each of us has things that we try to hide from others -- including our own selves. Each of us has moments in our lives that we would like to keep quiet and hidden from others -- because if they knew the truth about us, there would be repercussions. Maybe they would not like us anymore or the relationship would end. Maybe we would have internal shame and project it onto every other person in close relationship. Whatever the reason, we keep things hidden to keep others close, fearing that “if you really knew me you would leave.”
As people of faith, we can start changing that perception in our relationship with God. There is no other relationship that is as authentic as our relationship with God. God knows us deeply and intimately. God knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our thoughts, and our intentions. There is no hiding from God. There is no hiding our authentic, true selves from God. Psalm 139 is a beautiful testament to God’s intimate knowledge of us and God’s continued love for us.
You and I may not be able to come clean with everyone we meet, but we can come clean with God, trusting that God already knows and loves us and that God will not end our relationship. In fact, God will pull you closer and be gracious. Spend some time this week opening up to God about what is real, what is true, and what is most at the core of your anxiety, fear, and shame. If you are honest with God, you will, in turn, begin to be honest with yourself. You might even feel compelled to be that honest with your spouse or closest friend.
Authenticity will continue to be on the endangered species list for our wider culture -- it’s become too easy not to be authentic. Yet, we can stop the spin cycle in our own minds and be honest with God. It might open our eyes to what continues to be real and authentic in our relationships with others and leave us less susceptible to being a victim of a hoax, a scam, or a lifetime of lies. Psalm 139 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
I’ll see you Sunday.
December 2022 Caller Article
In the Season of Advent, we prepare to remember and re-experience the birth of Jesus at Christmas and for the second coming of Christ to fulfill the promise to realize the Realm of God on earth. The four Sundays revolve around the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. Scripture readings are drawn from the prophets, particularly Isaiah, and the Gospels where John the Baptizer is a central figure.
John the Baptizer foretells the coming of God’s Anointed One and calls us to “Repent!” — to “turn” away from the assumptions and priorities of this Age. This Age is marked by attitudes and behaviors that prioritize scarcity, violence, evil, poverty, exploitation, and discord. John calls us to turn toward the Age to come that is marked by peace, plenty, equality, and eternal life.
John’s witness is that Jesus is the One to bring about the new Age and points us to examine the ways our life colludes with the assumptions and behaviors of the old Age. In Jesus, we turn away from complacency and toward the attitudes and actions that help usher the Realm of God. We know that God’s purposes will never be fully fulfilled in this Age, but we can get a glimpse of what that Age might look like.
John invites us to participate in Jesus’ quest to usher in the Realm of God. John invites us into the waters of baptism as our witness to this quest, knowing that Jesus’ baptism will be with a cleansing fire and the Holy Spirit. I know that John invites us, individually, into this quest. But I often wonder if our witness to what God is doing in us, through us, and with us is broader than what any individual might do. I wonder if our calling is more collective than what we might understand.
The state of our political climate could use a broader witness more consistent with God’s Realm than the priorities of this flawed Age. I can’t tell you how often I have drafted emails, Tweets, and other messages to some of our elected officials, and those with whom I find disagreement, imploring interactions to be more consistent with God’s Realm than what is being modeled. I want to go full John the Baptizer on them – calling on them to repent in their thoughts, actions, policies, and interactions with those to whom they disagree. I fully believe in those moments that John the Baptizer, as portrayed most specifically in Matthew’s Gospel, I would be justified to call them out and call them to a better task. Yet, I would be wrong.
You see, a more complete reading of Matthew’s account of John’s prophecy in relation to Matthew’s community and better scholarship concludes that Matthew (in chapter 3) caricatures the Pharisees and Sadducees as hypocrites and legalists in order to justify the growing distance between traditional synagogues and Matthew’s community. This leads me to understand that Matthew engages in old-age behavior (lying about others) and I should not perpetuate behaviors and priorities inconsistent with God’s purposes.
I wonder if we might be better witnesses to each other if we were clearer about the ways others are misrepresented to us which clouds our abilities to see clearly. As individuals, or even as a small community, we will not be able to fix the problems that plague and continue to polarize our society. However, because your faithful witness encourages me to be more faithful in my actions, we can be witnesses to the misrepresentation of others that prevents understanding and collaboration. We can witness by refusing to collude (in attitude and action) with others who do not align with the values and priorities of God’s coming Realm.
The Season of Advent prepares us to remember and re-experience the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the second coming of Christ to usher in the Realm of God on earth. We focus meaning and understanding around hope, peace, joy, and love each Sunday. As we journey to the manger this Christmas, may we find ways to articulate and live into the attitudes and actions that make us ready to experience God’s coming Realm.
I’ll see you Sunday,
November 2022 Caller Article
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 reads, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
“36 ‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38 Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
Acts 2:1-11 tells of the early church receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. With that gift, Peter begins to preach to the crowd gathered. The crowd was receptive to Peter’s message and the early church grew based on individual’s actions as part of the community.
The Restoration Movement swept across the American Frontier in the 1800s. This movement brought the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) into being with leadership from father and son Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Barton Stone. Yet, it was Walter Scott, the best preacher and chief evangelist that helped the movement grow, town by town. As the story goes, Walter Scott would enter a town a day or two before he was scheduled to preach. Scott would head straight to the schoolyard playground and begin to talk to children. (It sounds a little creepy today, but in the 1800s it was an acceptable practice.)
Scott would gather the children and teach them his “5 Finger Exercise” and they should run home and tell their parents. Scott’s “5 Finger Exercise” was straight from Acts 2:38 and communicated what someone needed to do to become a Christian.
Faith -- believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Repent -- understand that the distance between the way Jesus lived and the way we live is always a call to repentance, that is, to change our ways to better follow Jesus’ example.
Be Baptized -- show the outward sign that you are willing to follow Jesus as a part of the whole Body of Christ.
Forgiveness of Sin -- receive forgiveness from the sin we commit and strive to sin no more.
Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit -- as a believer, bask in the gift that the Holy Spirit is guiding your life and your decisions and live this promise of God’s claim for you, your children, and everyone whom God calls.
My friends, the Christian faith is not complicated, but we have made it such. Based on Peter’s simple message, the church added 3,000 people in one day. As Walter Scott shared the Christian message, dozens were added every time he preached the Gospel in the American Frontier. May we be so bold as to strip the community of Jesus’ disciples today of the complexities and the barriers that keep people away. May we claim for ourselves this basic faith and share it with others.
The following verses in Acts 2 tell us what the early church did next… they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, prayers, breaking bread, and sharing as any had need. Again, simple and bold.
I wonder, now that we have revised our by-laws to help us spend more time in ministry and less time in administration, how we might emulate the early church in its simplicity that leads to growth. I wonder what things need to be emphasized in our life together and what things might fall by the wayside. I wonder if we are bold enough in our thinking and our living that we might come out of this interim time stronger, leaner, more nimble, and more representative of how we (the Church) began.
We have many challenges to face and a need to strengthen our financial position as a congregation. But, if we are bold enough to move outside our walls and simply share the Gospel, we might be able to attract others to our fellowship.
I’ll see you Sunday.
October Caller Article 2022
Reds, yellows, and oranges abound!! -- and I can’t wait. In the next two to three weeks, I expect that the trees along I-840 and throughout our area will be changing colors. Fall is officially here and every year it is a beautiful site. I know this because the days are still warm, but the nights are getting cool. I am amazed at the beauty of God’s creation at this time of year.
It feels good to celebrate seasonal changes -- expected changes. There is positive energy in the changing air, from warm and humid to cool and crisp. There is excitement as we prepare for our fall festivals and holidays. Many of us look forward to getting together with family and friends in the coming months.
For the last few years near the end of October or first part of November, a few families get together for an afternoon and evening of fun and fellowship. To those on the outside looking in, it may look like a cookout in the backyard. But, to us, the event is “Meatapalooza!” -- a festival of meat to meet. Each year, our event features smoked pork shoulder, chicken wings (spicy and mild), brisket, fried turkey, ribs, and beef sliders galore! When we first started this gathering, everything had to contain meat – sausage stuffed jalapenos and cheesecake with bacon sprinkled on top. Since then, we have loosened that rule to include fresh fruit, vegetables, and dessert that doesn’t have bacon. This year’s celebration isn’t scheduled yet. But, the best part of it all is being with friends that we haven’t seen in several months. It is good to connect.
Yet, I know that there are those that struggle with change. Some families have an empty place at the table and the cooling weather only reminds them of the one who is missing. The holidays approaching remind them of the memories once shared with a loved one no longer there to make new ones.
Changes, in all of life’s varied circumstances, come to us. Many are good. Many are not. Many changes can be expected, while others take us by surprise. In all of God’s brilliance in creating us and the beauty around us, one thing is constant and true -- God’s presence and love. God’s love adds a little extra joy in our celebrations and takes some of the sting in the pain of a loss. God’s presence inspires brilliance and majesty to the ordinary moments of life that we often take for granted, but it is in these moments that ordinary becomes extraordinary.
In 1864, Folliot Pierpoint penned the words to the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” This hymn embraces the beauty of God’s hand in creation and our relationships. We are grateful to God for the people in our lives, the changes we endure, and the setting in which they all happen. Being grateful for yesterday and for the tomorrows yet to be created inspires us to be grateful for today and in the knowledge that God is present. God is loving us in our joy and sorrow. God’s love will never cease and God’s presence never subsides.
Friends, may we see that which is around us more clearly and embrace those close to us in this new season of life. Set an extra setting at the table and know that God will fill it with love beyond our understanding.
I’ll see you Sunday.
September 2022 Caller Article
In early August, I sent a letter (in email form) to the congregation informing you about
upcoming changes based on current realities. I want to take this moment to update you on what has happened since that letter and what will happen soon.
For several months the Eldership and General Board have been discussing ways to streamline the administrative work of Central Christian Church. There is a need to reduce the number of meetings, shrink the size of the General Board (currently board membership is about half of the average weekly worship attendance), and focus our energy on our mission/ministry instead of keeping the institution running. The purpose of the Church is to share the gospel and make disciples, not to make sure we have enough people to sit on a committee.
A team has been working to revise the church by-laws to reflect how we wish to function as a congregational body. By-laws articulate how we choose to be together and to make decisions together. By-laws are a working set of ideas and agreements that can be changed at any time to better state the function and culture of the congregation. This team presented some of their work to the General Board in August. They took feedback from that meeting and have made more revisions to the By-laws. These revisions will be presented to the General Board on September 12 for approval.
Once approved by the General Board, the new By-laws will be disseminated to the
congregation at least two weeks prior to a called congregational meeting. This congregational meeting has been penciled in for Sunday, October 2 immediately following worship. It’s
penciled, because it may move based on feedback from the Board and/or timing of things yet unknown. The goal of this activity is to focus our work as a congregation on spiritual and
mission activities instead of institutional survival. None of these changes represents giving up or becoming one step closer to closing the doors of the church. Rather, these changes reflect a hopeful future for Central Christian Church. When we stop doing the things that keep us from moving forward, we have more energy to pursue things that excite us about who we are as God’s people making a difference in our community.
I won’t downplay the idea that this round of administrative changes will likely be the first in a series of changes over the coming years as growth or stagnation will necessitate a new
approach. For too long, the church has rested on the idea that we have been here for 110+ years so will be here at least another 110 – doing what we have always done. The church has resisted change because “we have never done it that way before” or “we do it ‘this’ way.” Gone are the days when the church is slow to adapt to changing needs in thecommunity and the Body of Christ.
These administrative changes are initial adaptations to current reality. They are not settled matters that will need a Supreme Court ruling and an Act of God working in conjunction to be changed. It is simply easier to change course to a moving ship than it is to change course of a stationary one.
As your Interim Minister, I appreciate your willingness to engage in a new way. Many congregations would sit back, pacify the interim, and engage the new minister to make adjustments to your life together (if at all). By then, it might be too late to find new life and ministry. Truthfully, good things only happen when you are willing to trust one another and extend grace when things do go as expected.
I’ll see you Sunday.
August 2022 Caller Article
I was a fan of the TV show “The West Wing” because of its great writing (read storytelling) and acting (read character development). It was just a quality show that offered a variety of fictional perspectives on how the people in the highest levels of our government live. In one episode, the President and the White House staff found themselves losing every battle -- personally and politically. At one point, the Chief of Staff tells this story:
A man was walking down the street and fell into a hole and couldn’t get out. A doctor walked by. The man called out for help. So the doctor wrote a prescription, tossed it to the man and walked away. A clergyman walked by. He stopped, wrote a prayer for the man, tossed it into the hole and walked away. Finally, a friend of the man walked by. Again, the man called for help. The friend jumped in. The man said, “Joe, what are you doing? Now we are both stuck in this hole.” The friend replied, “I’ve been in this hole before and I know the way out.”
Friendship is powerful. Relationships are critical to our survival as they feed our intangible needs. We may be able to learn things from books or video or the Internet, but nothing can take the place of the experience we get when we are with someone else. Mentors are friends who have been there before and will help show you the way to what comes next. Sometime we are the mentor. Sometimes we are the mentee. Either way, the relationship heightens the meaning of the lessons learned.
The church -- the collection of people -- are our mentors in the Christian faith. The members of the church nurture our spiritual growth. Sometimes we are the teacher; sometimes we are the student. Always we are in relationship with one another and with God.
I think it’s helpful on our spiritual journey to be mindful of how we are being mentored in our faith and what we are doing to mentor others. We tend to be pretty good at recognizing how others impact us. However, we’re not so good at affirming to ourselves that we matter to others.
As the “West Wing” episode continued, the staff began functioning as a team, learning from each other and caring about how things went. They started winning some of those battles. Their personal relationships improved and their political momentum increased. It was a happier ending than what it might have been without each other’s help.
I’ll see you Sunday.
July 2022 Caller Article
I am getting tired of reading. The more I read, the more I find out what it is that I need to fear and how to avoid it. But, if I stop reading, I will turn on the television and discover the more evils of the world and why I should just stay home and never leave. From chemicals in manufactured products to our healthcare system to jobs not available for people who want them at the wages being offered to what our kids are learning in school. It seems like everyone has to tell the masses who has wronged them and how to protect yourself from those evil people and/or things.
It also seems that every message that I receive is that I’m not good enough and that if I buy this product, do something "this way" then I will be absolutely outstanding in every way – until I listen to the next commercial. Pick a racial/ethnic group, an age demographic, an income level, and a gender. There is something wrong with you.
On one hand, we’re created that way – not perfect. And that’s okay. On the other hand, forgetting that we are created beings of God and are beautiful and wonderful isn’t okay. We all fall short of who God created us to be, but that does not give anyone else license to exploit our weaknesses and exponentially increase them.
I miss conversations about grace – grace that reminds us that no, we’re not perfect, but we have the confidence in ourselves as God’s beloved children to move on in a process that builds healing and wholeness. I miss hearing that message that in the confidence of God’s love we can work to become the people God intended us to be – because God is building in us, not that others are tearing us down.
Our culture tells us that if you have a problem, there is a pill to take or some other magic fix – if you only do "this." Our faith tells us that as one of God’s beloved children, created in the image of God, that there is something else to do – gather around the Table of Grace on Sunday mornings, receive symbols of God’s grace (yes, the pellet of bread and the thimble of juice require us to use our imaginations to envision the Boundless Feast we embrace), and let their meaning guide us on our journey toward healing and wholeness.
By no means is this a quick fix – which is one reason we take Communion every time we gather to worship God. These emblems remind us that healing and wholeness are a process. Living in God’s grace doesn’t relieve us of wrongdoing, mistakes, or flaws to our character or body. It does give us a foundation on which to build and move us along that path with confidence.
Living in God’s grace reduces the fear of the unknown, the other, and the self-defeating thinking that plagues us all. Living in God’s grace helps us to see the "other" as a child of God too – not an enemy to be feared and/or eliminated.
I suppose I do not need to stop reading or watching television or listening to the radio. I need to refocus my attention to the Good News that God proclaims to each of us – that in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. That, friends, is all the confidence I need to continue on a path toward healing and wholeness.
I’ll see you Sunday.
June Caller Article
As Pentecost Sunday is this Sunday, June 5, we look forward to what the Holy Spirit can do in ministry with us. I am dreaming about what ministry in local congregations like Central Christian might look like in the coming years. I am also reflecting on the first 14 years of my ministry -- particularly the time I spent counseling and directing church camps.
Camping ministry is on my mind right now because I have been asked to direct Chi Rho Camp at Bethany Hills this summer – June 25-July 2 – something I haven’t done in 20 years. In the last couple of weeks I have immersed myself into preparations by putting together a counseling staff, exploring the curriculum, and sketching out daily schedules. Yet, one of the joys of camping ministry is watching young people claim their faith and talk about how they want to experience the church differently. These young people have deep faith and want to witness to that faith, but often their churches back home aren’t really interested in hearing their voices. The adults in their churches love to hear their stories from camp; they even celebrate their experiences. Yet, unfortunately, the adults treat those moments of profound faith in those young people as something for those individuals and not something that could/should change the faith community.
Through the joy of social media, I have had the luxury of being able to stay connected to many of these “kids” who were campers 20+ years ago. Today, they live all over the country and are doing amazing things in their professional and personal lives. Many are still connected to a faith community and continue to live their deep faith.
The same can’t be said for many of their peers. Many 30 and 40 somethings and even (I can’t believe that I am THAT old), have taken a path that no longer includes a faith community. Many felt as if their voice didn’t matter and they walked out of the doors of their home church and never walked into the doors of another. But, they are searching. Maybe not like generations that came before them, but they are searching and longing for a connection to a faith community -- a place to belong.
A Disciples’ clergy colleague relayed this experience: “Talked to an actual millennial today looking for a church, yes they exist. Her thoughts? I can't go there cuz I don't believe in that and I can't go there because it's too much of a production. I grew up Catholic but I can't go there because it's changed so much it's not familiar anymore. Maybe I just don't know what I'm really looking for.
So there it is.....Maybe none of us really know what any of us really want in church and that's why this is hard.”
Currently, the voice of young people and folks new to the Christian faith is quiet in our congregation. It won’t be quiet forever because the flames of the Holy Spirit are burning hot to cleanse, refine, and renew. The breath of the Holy Spirit is filling us with new life to invigorate us beyond our current situation. We are the perfect place for those seeking a faith connection in a broken, complex world to find it. We can and will be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world that Murfreesboro and Rutherford County need. Will we be ready when the Spirit moves?
I’ll see you Sunday.
May Caller Article
Every Easter Sunday, I have a difficult time singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” It is not that the words are complicated to pronounce or the tune challenging to sing. Rather, it is the power of the emotions of the holiest day of the year combined with the weight of the mystery of the Resurrection that cause me to get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
Easter is the oldest of our Christian festivals. In fact, it is because Christ’s resurrection happened on a Sunday (the first day of the week) that we, for nearly two millennia, have chosen to worship on Sundays rather than the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday (the last day of the week when God rested in the creation story). Each Sunday, then, is to be a mini-Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection, but there is something holy, sacred and special about Easter Sunday.
Having served several different churches and getting to experience the traditions of those congregations, Easter is truly a sacred time. In one church during the Children’s Moment in worship, we literally buried “Alleluia” on the first Sunday in Lent and raised it in celebration on Easter. In another, congregation members brought flowers to be placed on a cross as a symbol that life overcomes death. In another congregation, a man would break his fast with Communion on Easter that started with Communion on Maundy Thursday. Every family and family of faith have ways to mark this powerful day in the Church.
Easter Sunday this year was no exception to that. Beautiful music highlighted the day of celebration. The gorgeous flowers and plants filled the windows and choir loft. A larger crowd than a usual Sunday helped build excitement. The bountiful Easter Lilies adorning the sanctuary added life to a day of true celebration.
So, now what comes next? Will we go back to the regular routine or will we claim the message of Easter that God is alive and active in our congregation and our lives individually? Will we just go back to business as usual or do we affirm the joy we claim when we say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen.”
I believe our hymn instructs us well: praise God, join in Christ’s victory and follow wherever Christ leads. May we do so and thus become people of the Resurrection!
I’ll see you on Sunday!
April Caller Article
A few years ago during the “Back to School” rush, a middle school in Georgia posted a welcome back message to their students that read, “Welcome Back Students. We are glad you are hear.” The message was supposedly up for less than an hour before the correct spelling for “here” was posted. However, someone snapped a picture of the sign and it went viral on the Internet and covered on the TV news for a cycle. The school administrators caught a lot of flack for such an error -- however short-lived it was.
For more than three months during that same time, I had been driving by a church sign that contained a similar error. The sign read: “No prayer for 7 days makes one week.” If I’m not mistaken, even with prayer, seven days is still one week. Clearly, the intent of the sign creator was to encourage prayer as a source of strength -- without prayer, we are weak.
Errors like these occur all the time, because we are human and we make mistakes. We are sometimes so distracted that we do not focus on the task at hand. I can not and will not fault folks for trying and falling short. However, for the spelling error to be posted all summer long -- left uncorrected -- is no longer a simple mistake. It’s lazy -- the people in that congregation either did not care enough to fix it or were just not paying attention.
We have been on our Lenten journey – the 40-day journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb – since March 2. Lent helps us prepare for the radical act of God in raising Jesus from the dead. As observed on Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that we are dust in God’s hands and that we begin to see what God can do in us and through us and for us -- as we are deeply known and loved by God.
This journey we take in Lent wakes us up to pay attention to our lives and to what is going on around us. The journey we take in Lent is not by ourselves, but with others who care about us and us, them. The journey we take in Lent shines a light in our dark places of our minds and souls that we may seek clearly the ways we obstruct God’s movement and gives us a chance to change those things that prevent us from being the people God created us to be.
My hope is that as we journey together this Lent, may you come to know God and God’s love for you more deeply this year. There is power in joining together as a community of faith. When we challenge one another, we can do great things. Opening our lives to God’s grace opens us to greatness beyond our imagining.
Easter Sunday is April 17. We are preparing for an Easter celebration that reminds us that God has negated the permanence of death and instills in us abundant life beyond our imagining. For the rest of our Lenten journey, there are many opportunities to gather as a community to get ready. Each Wednesday through Lent, we continue to gather at 6:30 p.m. for prayer and reflection. During Holy Week, we will join with other congregations in the downtown area for Noon prayer services. (A schedule is available elsewhere in this newsletter and the Sunday bulletin.) May we continue to do the work needed to be ready and support one another on this journey.
I’ll see you Sunday.
March Caller Article
Lent begins on March 2 with Ash Wednesday. There will be a special Ash Wednesday worship service at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. Traditionally (ok, pre-COVID), we held a soup dinner in the Fellowship Hall. There will be no dinner this year. (The decision to not have a meal was not connected in any way to COVID.)
Lent is a 40-day journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb. Lent helps us prepare for the radical act of God in raising Jesus from the dead. The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day to think about our humanity and the frailty of life. The burned ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday palms will be imposed on our foreheads as a reminder that from the dust we were created and to the dust we will return when we die. It is from the acknowledgement that we are dust in God’s hands that we begin to see what God can do in us and through us and for us -- as we are deeply known and loved by God.
Come to the Ash Wednesday worship and be reminded of God’s activity as we sing songs, hear the words of God’s promise through scripture, receive Communion, and have ashes imposed upon our heads in the sign of a cross. These acts and these symbols have power and bring deep meaning to our lives. In difficult times, ritual brings comfort, meaning, and order to the chaos we might be experiencing. The structure of ritual offers us a pattern to move out of chaos and into structure for healing, wholeness, and a new way of being.
This year’s Lenten theme in worship will be about helping each member of the Body of Christ to re-center our life together on the teaching and practices that help all disciples of Jesus live the covenant of baptism. I invite you to come and be a part of the Lenten journey and to invite others to walk with us for these 40 days.
As we begin our Lenten journey together, may you come to know God and God’s love for you more deeply this year. There is power in joining together as a community of faith. When we challenge one another, we can do great things. Opening our lives to God’s grace opens us to greatness beyond our imagining.
I’ll see you Sunday.
February 2022 Caller Article
Maintaining balance in one’s life requires focus. Yet, most of us don’t focus on the elements that need our attention. Most of us are pretty good at going to work and doing well enough to keep our jobs. Most of us are pretty good at having family relationships that bring us joy and satisfaction. Most of us live from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night without much regard for what it means to live a Christ-like manner. That’s not meant to be a judgmental statement – it’s meant to be descriptive of the world around us as our peers, colleagues, and bosses/employees aren’t spending time thinking about their relationship with Jesus while they’re doing their job – they’re earning a living and making money.
For a time, I was a bi-vocational pastor and spent 40 hours or more each week in an environment that was not interested in my relationship with Jesus. I worked in a public school, where it is illegal for me to talk to students about my faith/religion. Because I worked in a counseling role, most of the adults I worked with knew my faith background and that I served as a minister on Sundays and other weekday evenings. Yet, the students and their parents did not have a clue about what went on in my life away from the school building.
Maintaining balance between living in a secular world and being a person of faith requires focus and attention to who I am and whose I am. I don’t have a clear prescription that works for everyone, but I do have a suggestion to finding balance in your life: Live by the “Worship, 1 and 1” axiom.
As a person who believes in God, it is essential to worship God every week. If you’re in town on Sunday morning, we’re here at Central Christian (corner of Maney and Main) at 10:45 a.m. for worship. You are always welcome to join us (and bring a friend) or any congregation of your choosing. If you’re out of town, I encourage you to find a place to worship in that town. I know that’s not always possible or desirable, but giving thanks to God for each of our blessings helps us maintain a healthy relationship with God and buoyed in God’s desire for us. Remember, Sunday morning worship is about God, not people.
The “1 and 1” portion of the axiom is this: every week do something, ONE thing, that nourishes your faith AND do something, ONE thing, that helps someone outside of your family. Certainly, you are encouraged to do more than just one thing, but it’s a place to start – but be clear to maintain balance. Take the biblical examples of Mary and Martha the sisters that hosted Jesus in their home (Luke 10:38-42). Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and soaked up everything that Jesus taught. She spent time with her rabbi, her teacher. Martha, on the other hand, never sat down. She flitted to and fro making sure to be the quintessential host by making sure everyone else’s needs were met. Martha ended up exhausted and bitter that she was working while her co-host and sister did nothing to serve their guest.
Both Mary and Martha are wonderful examples of how to live a Christian life – learning AND serving. Yet, if we are too absorbed on one, we neglect the other and we are out of balance. Faith without works is a fine ideal, but how does that help anyone but you? Works without faith offers a wonderful ethic to help those in need, but what meaning is made from an action?
We can go about enriching our faith by attending classes to engage our faith in learning. These occasions allow us to embrace Mary’s positive attributes. Volunteering to teach a class, work with children, or donate time to hand out food to hungry people -- something that you are passionate about for the world are a few examples of service. Each of these things helps us to embrace the positive attributes of Martha.
To embrace the “Worship, 1 and 1” axiom helps to find and maintain balance between being self-absorbed and self-sacrificial. It helps us to sit at Jesus’ feet to soak in everything about our faith and to make a difference in the lives of those in our community. I don’t know what impact it will make in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County if each of us tried to employ such a plan. But I think it would be fun to explore and it just might bring joy to a world that desperately needs joy.
I’ll see you Sunday.
January 2022 Caller Article
Happy 2022! I hope you had a blessed Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season.
As we begin a new year, most of our culture is talking about their New Year’s resolutions. I have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions and I call them “restitutions” because the “resolutions” most people make are looking backward. People’s commitments for the new year include, for example, “losing weight” which is a result of poor eating habits over time and poor choices during the last 8 weeks or so -- Halloween candy, pumpkin pie, through all of the Christmas goodies. Folks may be resolute about what they will do in the new year, but they are still making restitution for the choices made in the past.
When I set goals for the new year, I try to make sure they are more about helping move forward -- establishing new and better habits -- rather than looking backward. In 2004, I recognized that I needed to lose weight and get in better shape. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to change that, I set a goal to run my first half marathon. For me, it was about moving forward in my choices, not looking back and continuing to beat myself up for those choices. People fail to keep their “resolutions” because they still feel guilty or heap others’ expectations upon themselves. Establishing new habits and making better choices is about looking into the future to accomplish something and putting a plan in motion to accomplish that goal.
In the season after Epiphany (January 7 until Ash Wednesday -- March 2 this year), the church takes a look at the early events and aspects of Jesus’ ministry. I will be preaching a quasi sermon series. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a number of years ago adopted an Identity Statement that states: “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” I will preach a 4 part series expounding on this identity.
In keeping with the season after Epiphany, this 4-part series will be bracketed by some early events in Jesus’ ministry. I will seek to explore how Central Christian might seek to project elements of our Disciples identity into the future. In claiming elements of Jesus’ early ministry, we might begin to establish new ministry priorities that move the congregation forward.
During this season, I invite conversation around the identity and ministry priorities of Central Christian with you and among groups within the congregation. Your Elders will continue to be intentionally engaging this task in their meetings. I hope to find another opportunity to gather others into this conversation as everyone’s voice matters. I encourage you to find ways to engage in these conversations with your family and friends and the leadership groups of Central Christian Church. May we, together, move the ministry of the congregation forward as God is leading us.
I’ll see you on Sunday.
December Caller Article 2021
Every year, I encounter people in the church who want to jump right from “Now Thank We All Our God” to “Joy to the World.” In doing that, we miss the message of Advent -- prepare your hearts for God’s in-breaking in a new way. We all have our traditions and routines throughout December and at Christmas -- routines that are familiar and comfortable. There is nothing wrong with that as they give us meaning from the memories of times past. I wonder if we might find new meaning this year in those traditions.
During Advent, we light candles. We don the purple paraments in the sanctuary. We hear music that rings of hope and peace for our lives and the world. In contrast to the noise and the tacky plastic of the “Christmas shopping season,” the church embraces quiet reflection. A pastoral colleague The Rev. Carol Cavin-Dillon writes, “While the shopping malls pipe in Christmas music until our temples are pounding with silver bells and candy canes, we come to church and sing about the promise of Emmanuel, God-with-us. While the stores offer the thrill of instant gratification, we come to church and learn to wait patiently for deeper hopes to be fulfilled.”
Advent is a gift that comes to us at a time when everything around us asks us to put one more chaos producing party or event in our lives. The preparation we engage in Advent draws us away from our security habits and closer to the mystery of life which we cannot predict, manage or control. Kind of like falling in love, we open again to the outrageous possibility that there is One who loves us so much that boundaries of time and space became as nothing to this One’s desire for our joy, for our healing, for our reconciliation.
Advent is a gift -- the gift to make time to prepare for God’s presence in the flesh. Advent comes to us at the time of year when darkness is more common than light. The Church seeks to stand in direct contrast to the darkness consuming us. Lighted candles punch holes in the darkness, offering hope and peace. Relationships enfold us in joy and love ensuring us that God’s blessing is for us and for those around us.
As we enter this season of Advent, it is a good time to think about how we encounter God in the flesh at Central Christian and other places in our lives. Mary opened herself to the possibilities God envisioned for her. Joseph’s character to support the one he loved allowed their
lives to be reshaped by what God was doing for all of us. Opening our lives to the Spirit at work within each of us is the challenge Advent presents for us.
I’ll see you Sunday.
November 2021 Caller Article
We are embarking on an exceptionally busy time of year. The Thanksgiving holiday launches the preparation for Christmas and the New Year. Family gatherings, parties, and general hustle and bustle are the norm for these next 8 weeks or so. Usually, (and especially in the age of COVID) I might advocate that the Church should offer a different way of being to the rest of the world -- to slow down, take something out of your life to reduce stress and add meaning in a different way. However, this year, I think the Church, particularly this congregation, should jump right in the festive waters with both feet.
(OK, take a moment to re-read the last sentence.) Yes, I did say to fill up your schedule this holiday season -- from the week of Thanksgiving all the way through January 6 (Epiphany which ends the Christmas season). With the caveat of COVID safety, go crazy with parties -- for work, for friends, and for family. Get out in the middle of the shops and the malls, the traffic and everything that goes with it -- except the poor, frustrated attitude. Start putting up your decorations now. Don’t wait until everybody else is doing it.
You might be thinking that I have already dipped into the spiked eggnog -- who tells us to get busier during this time of year? Here’s why. At this time of year (November through the New Year), all of the messages we hear are about being thankful, grateful, merry, and happy for everything in your life. Honestly, it’s a little too sweet -- fake sweet, like, saccharine on steroids. Our (my -- but stay with me) reaction, then, is to pull inward and become cynical to it all. When that happens, we dwell on the things that aren’t going well, the people and things that we have lost, our hurts and our pains -- physical and emotional. We don’t feel like celebrating. When we don’t feel like celebrating, we won’t. We will miss out on the rich joy of the season.
Mother Teresa used to be questioned all the time about how she was able to maintain her hopeful spirit as she encountered so much suffering around her. Her response: Fake it until you make it. When she didn’t feel hopeful, but others expected her to offer hope in the midst of despair, she pushed herself into feeling hopeful -- until she WAS hopeful.
Advent begins at the end of this month, on November 28. Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy are the themes of each Sunday in Advent. You will not want to miss this important time as we prepare our hearts, minds, and lives for the coming of the Christ Child -- once again. I hope that this year, you will discover anew the meaning of God’s breaking-in to our world in such a significant way.
Grateful Thanks, Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy don’t just happen, they are continually cultivated by our relationship with God and one another. I invite you to discover anew how each of these is alive and vibrant in your life of faith. Let’s get busy!
I’ll see you Sunday.
October 2021 Caller Article
As I begin my ministry with you, I want to express my gratitude to each of you for the opportunity to serve as your pastor during this time of transition. Interim ministry can be a strange concept to many. Since the advent of being clergy as a profession, all ministries are interim in nature. Very rarely do congregations form under the leadership of one pastor and that pastor stays for their whole ministry. Clergy move from congregation to congregation – but the ministry of the congregation continues. So, being in an intentionally interim ministry, what does that ministry look like? Why is what we do now important for the future of the congregation?
There are three biblical images of interim ministry that provide structure to our life together. First, the people of Israel left slavery in Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land. What they thought was supposed to be a short journey became 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Many important things happened to the people of Israel during those 40 years. That journey from one reality (slavery) to a new life (in the Promised Land) informed and shaped the people and their community.
Second, in preparation for Jesus’ public ministry, he spent 40 days in the wilderness in prayer and fasting. In this time, Jesus gained clarity about who he was as the Son of God and what his ministry on earth would look like. Jesus resisted temptation and prepared himself for the journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb. The third biblical image for interim ministry is fixed in the person of John the Baptizer (aka Baptist – he wasn’t a Baptist, he was a baptizer). John preached the message of Jesus’ coming that he would be the savior of God’s people.
Each of these images is important to keep in mind as we begin our life together. There are things we need to learn on our journey toward your next settled minister. There are trials and temptations that we will endure as the congregation gains clarity around what your ministry will look like in the future. I am here as your temporary shepherd to nurture you and guide you into your next phase of ministry.
What that ministry looks like is up to you – you have the opportunity to shape a reality in this community that will embody Christ’s resurrection. One of the things we understand about the Gospel of Mark’s account of Easter is that the ending of the Easter Story has yet to be written. As 21st Century Christians, we understand that we are an Easter people and we can’t hesitate to proclaim, “Christ is risen!” From that first Easter moment to now, the old rules have been abolished as life triumphs over death, hope overcomes despair. This is the Easter world in which we live, no matter the time of year.
I look forward to helping you write the next chapter in the ministry of Central Christian Church. I am honored to be with you in this time.
I’ll see you Sunday.